God of the Week: Janus

The Eclectic Light Company

From its earliest days, Rome assimilated different cultures and religions, well beyond those of Greek traditions. There was a particularly strong Etruscan influence, not that the Romans ever wanted to admit it. The most important and best-known god who was inherited from the Etruscans and has no Greek equivalent was Janus, the god of transitions, including beginnings, gates and doorways, and possibly the start of the year.

The traditional story is that Janus gave his name to January, the first month of the modern year. There are at least two problems with this: January wasn’t the original start of the year for the Romans, who like many cultures used to begin the New Year in Spring instead. By the time that more modern names were given to the months, though, it started with Ianuarius, which was supposedly named after Janus. The other problem is that it’s even disputed whether Ianuarius…

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